Sunday 16 June 2013

Getting the archive buzz

Meeting the dinosaur after the performance
There are archives, and then there's what you do with them.  For 'Life's Rich Pageant' Birmingham History Theatre Company devised a play about the making of Birmingham Pageant of 1938.

When we first got involved, I thought my children would be doing some singing, and I'd be helping them a bit.  In the end, we all did some acting, we made props (including this rather handsome, smoke belching dinosaur) and the quality of the songs we all sang devised by Pete Churchill were outstanding.  I may not have known much about the Pageant before, but now, me and my family will never forget.

What's more important is the archives, the play, the way community drama works, has really been about bringing people together.  In the audience was someone who really had been to the Pageant in 1938, and remember the dinosaurs to be bigger, but every bit as dodgily put together, spouting green smoke.  I met a whole range of people, both actors and audience, all discussing various aspects of Balsall Heath, Birmingham City Council, how things have changed, what's stayed the same, have things got better for women, is there still a sense of community? The archive material has created a 'buzz' from which so much could develop.

For the past 18 months I've been working to develop Paganel Archives - the first ARCHON registered UK repository archive in a state run primary school.  Today I've been replying to emails sent from previous pupils from when the school was first opened, to arrange interviews led by children.

Paganel School are spending a whole week off curriculum to interview more local residents and pupils, and then to represent them creatively.  We want all children in the school to have experienced interviewing, and then creating their own Paganel stories inspired by the interviews to showcase on the Friday, alongside more archive materials.  Birmingham Archives and Heritage outreach team has been training Yr 5 to support younger children to conduct interviews.  We have some really fantastic creative practitioners to work with each class during the week to help students represent the stories the way they want to - Bobbie Gardner (with sound/music), Roz Goddard (Poetry), Brian Homer (photography), Tom Jones (drawing), Pyn Stockman (drama), Clare Chapman (creative outdoors), Richard Albutt (digitally).

But again, even though the archive room will be awesome and the archive will inspire creative learning across the whole school, what I'm most looking forward to is the archive inspired conversations, meeting and talking, putting heritage at the heart of our community.

Useful links:


Thursday 6 June 2013

Keeping the d in distance learning

Boulton, Watt and Murdoch under a Brummie moon
The Ed Tech Team at University of Birmingham wanted to make a presentation at the 10th annual conference, teaching and learning at University of Birmingham touching on current issues in teaching practice.  It's hard to avoid the rise and rise of MOOCs and the shift in education many believe they will bring.  We haven't yet made any big investment into MOOCs, but not a day goes by without the suggestion that maybe we should be.  I'm not intending to write solely about MOOCs - there's no shortage of material out there should you want to find out more, but look at the broader school of 'distance learning' of which MOOC is a family member, and something we've been doing rather well in Birmingham for some time.

I am refering to the wonderful Lunar men of the late 18th century, who met at every full moon, usually at Soho House, but mainly shared their thoughts via mail.  When I worked in Birmingham Archives and Heritage, I had the privilege of working with the Boulton and Watt Collection.  One day I was flicking through Watt's letters when I came across the very letter he sent to Priestley suggesting Joe might be onto something with his "dephlogisticated air" (Oxygen).  It even appears they were conducting 'distance experimentation' :

The Lunar Society believed in argument and cooperation. They had long discussions about why thunder rumbles and decided the best way to test their various theories was by experiment. Boulton made a 5-foot-diameter balloon from varnished paper, and they filled it with a terrifying mixture of air and hydrogen (“inflammable air from iron”). They lit a fuse underneath, released the balloon into the night sky on a calm, clear evening and waited for the bang. Unfortunately, the fuse was rather long, and they all assumed it must have gone out; so they began to talk among themselves, when there was a colossal explosion, and they all said, “There it goes!” and forgot to listen for the rumble! Watt was at home 3 miles away and wrote that the bang was “instantaneous, and lasted about one second.” This seems self-contradictory, but in any case, the experiment failed to produce a simple answer to the original question.

Adam Hart-Davis

Starting with historical perspective, it was interesting to note the Oxford English Dictionary has not yet cited any published use of the term d-Learning, dLearning, dlearning or the other variants.  There is plenty in OED and others on e-Learning, but somehow d-learning has been missed.

Defining e-Learning, the e stands for 'electronic', of course, but there has been lively discussion about what it should stand for, or even if, in the proliferation of e-Learning across learning, mainstream, whether it is useful as a term anymore at all.  Some of the suggestions:

electronic, enterprise, exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, and educational,

everything, everyone, engaging, easy - Erik Parks

You could also question if there is still a need to define separately d-Learning, but if we are, I would argue the d in d-Learning needs to be discussion.  There are challenges to learning from a distance.  We need to play to the strengths of modern digital learning networks, and actively promote and value the contributions and learning of our students and our staff.

I found the lack of literature defining d-learning rather curious, even though it seems in common currency in Education establishments, and so looked to how the big MOOC and other distance learners are defining themselves.  I looked at Open University, Harvard university, Massey, Coursera and some of the other big MOOC and distance learning providers.  The variation in how they defined their distance learning was striking - all included 'discussion' as an important element - for some it was central, for others it seemed mentioned more as an additional extra.

Changes in MOOC definition on wikipedia have also been noted and discussed as the MOOC providers appear to move away from the professional network 'connectivism' model of MOOC in a bid to find and promote the most eminent Professors to provide resources, represent their courses and displace peer-to-peer discussion and open access.  Such has been the shift that a separate 'connectivist MOOC' sub-group is now defined in Wiki, based largely on what is seen as a more 'purist' interpretation of the principles all MOOCS were founded.

Distance Learning and MOOCs are increasingly being debated within Ed Tech groups like the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), within our own University, across Education Establishments  across the world, and creeping nearer our newspaper front pages.  If discussion in d-Learning is kept central to MOOCS and all distance learning, I believe new technolgies could still provide a shift in learning and learning establishments to engage and meet the needs of more students worldwide.

Useful links:

Monday 3 June 2013

Playing Out

After a hairy road crossing at the bottom of Lyme Regis (reminds me of our school journey), you're onto the beach.  You can relax and let the kids run about (or pin them down with rocks, depending on how you're feeling).

It's a completely different feeling to the anxiety, watching out for your kids walking along a road in Kings Heath - enough nearly to turn you into a swivel-eyed loon, dashing over to stop your child picking a daisy from the kerb... Just in case they fall into the road.  But deep down you know you wouldn't have got there in time.  Especially if you live on a road with lots of speeding traffic, narrow pavements and a general intolerance of other road/pavement users.   Is it better to block a pavement with your car or block the traffic on the road?  Why is it OK for car drivers to shout at cyclists?  And what is it that everyone hates about dog owners?

So why do we just accept the risks, the anxiety, the misery we are putting ourselves through?   Can anyone argue our roads and pavements are as safe as they should be?

 Sustrans and other organisations are doing what they can.  Locally too there are things we can do to open conversation and bring about change.  Car Culture is a project continuing to explore our road use - there is also the Live in Hope campaign and a new initiative to start playing out in Kings Heath.

Yesterday saw Goldsmith Road and Westfield Road in Kings Heath closed to traffic for street parties to do with the big lunch.  They are two of up to six which may be closing on 7th August 2013 for National Playday.  So far there has been a great response to the possibility of closing roads to traffic in Kings Heath - possibly because everyone is too aware of the problems we have.  Traffic and it's problems will be high on the agenda again for KH residents forum AGM this weekend.

Seeing some of the photos from the playing out projects makes me feel a little nostalgic for the streets I used to play on, socialising with your neighbour, all things I feel like my children miss, because it doesn't feel safe to let them out in Kings Heath - keep a lookout on Kings Heath Centre for Space Exploration for more about this.